Atali, the site of recent attacks on Muslims by their Hindi co-villagers, is a metaphor for India. Or,a mirror India should look into, to ‘re-cognize’ itself. To know that it is gradually turning into a majoritarian society. A society in which neighbors turn into strangers and yet keep feigning /pretending affinity and love for each other. A nation with a Hindu sensibility-zone and a Muslim sensibility zone.
The rites of passage are familiar. The majority has to be persuaded and convinced that it has to graduate from its present complacent position to a more respectable position of power, which was always its due but which it could not get because of the policies of ‘appeasement of the minorities’. After a long, sustained education, a ceremony, an event is organized in which majority has to participate as one person. It has to be a violent event in which blood would be shed. Had not Bhima drunk the blood of Kauravas? Or, Draupadi untied her hair with a vow that she would tie it only after washing it with the blood of Duhshasana?
A local cause has to invented to arouse the passion of the masses. It can vary from place to place. There is also, however an unmistakable commonness in all of them and they can be applied anywhere in India. It could be loss of honour, or even the fear of it, of their daughters at the hands of Muslims or a place of worship wrongfully usurped by Muslims or the slaughter of a cow by them. Many a times all three are mixed.The ‘local’ of the Hindus is both local and national at the same time whereas the Muslim ‘local’ is also part of a global project of Islamic hegemony.
Contrary to the popular understanding of 1947 fading away from popular memory, it is now being invoked with a sinister creativity: Hindus are convinced that it was their generosity which allowed Muslims to ‘stay back’ here. They must not forget it.The younger generation had inherited this mantle of benevolence from their ancestors and resent the audacity of their contemporaries on the other side, when they assert their right to equality. In Haryana 1947 is recalled as the year of Mar-Kat (great killing). Behave or we’ll do 1947 again, is the threat from the Hindus that Muslims fear in 2015.
Hindus also envy the growing prosperity of Muslims, particularly those from the ‘lower castes’, who in their popular imagination have always been their dependents. That they can create an autonomous, self-reliant and self-sustaining life network is a repugnant thought to them. It also ends their tentativeness and gives them a worrying confident permanence.
In Atali the insistence of Mulsims to turn their make-shift , temporary prayer-site into a brick and mortar mosque is seen as one such unwarranted attempt by them to claim equal and permanent status in the village. Hindus are happy to treat them as their subjects. It was repeatedly alleged that Muslims have lived here on the generosity of Hindus for generations and it is only now, with two Muslsim families having earned some money that they are raising their heads. Hindus do not have any problem with them as long as as they obey their diktat, one being that they build their mosque on a site identified by Hindus, for which they are even ready to give money.
The ceremony of violence with mass participation of locals is crucial. Once the masses get involved, they also become complicit. And criminalized. By attacking and killing their neighbours for an entire generation, a taboo is broken. They break free of the prison of their past. It also achieves another purpose. Since they live in a society which is governed by laws, they become criminal in its eyes and it can catch on them at a time of its choosing.They turn into fugitives. It also splits their personalities.They have committed violence but they cannot own it. Dishonesty and cowardice combines in them and it keeps them in a permanent state of moral anxiety.
Minorities, betrayed by their neighbors have only modern laws to protect them. They want to use it. It is a very strange situation as it would land the majority in jail or in a long drawn legal process. The majority feels that it is an unfair punishment for an act of momentary anger. The insistence of Muslims to use laws is seen as their obstinacy, their refusal to return to normal peaceful times and a further proof of their essential conflict-loving nature.
The anti-Muslim violence in Atali points to another feature of the organization of violence. Since people from neighboring villages also participated in it, it becomes incumbent on the villagers to reciprocate the help whenever such need arises in other areas. Or,in a more clever way, it would be a mutuality: you attack my Muslims,we’ll take care of yours.
In Atali, and elsewhere too, the presence of the known Hindutva organisations could not be established. What could be seen in Muzaffarnagar,Trilokpuri, Bawana and now Atali is that the traditional kinship networks are being activated and the identified organisastions like the RSS, VHP , Bajarang Dal or even Durga Vahini prefer to remain behind the scene and invisible. The presence and participation of women in the violence of Atali is yet another indicator of a change in traditional social behaviour. When in Atali, an old Hindu woman agitatedly asked us “Are you from the Mullas or one of us?”
It is a mystery as to how no one was killed in the violence in Atali. Also the behaviour of the police force is not consistent.Muslims complained that the police withdrew from the scene just before the violence started and returned only after the mobs had left. But, they also said that they were human and caring and rescued them and their children to safety. It has also been noticed that the number of killings is dwindling. In Atali no one was killed. Killing attracts international media attention for a disproportionate amount of time. It is also impossible to dilute such cases. Killings are seen as permanent loss whereas looting and burning of houses and properties can be treated as accidents. Police and civil administration may also change their ways. They’ll allow the majority to express its anger but remain empathetic and human to the victims in the aftermath. That will lend them more credibility as arbiters and peacemakers. For example, it was difficult for the Muslims of Atali to resist the attempt of the authorities to make them return to their place and not insist on the arrest of the marauders. Their absence would be treated as an aberration and is compensated by their later act of kindness. How can one not trust the word of this police that it will act on their complaint.
Has the majoritarian project adapted the Naxalite slogan of the sixties of the last century to their purpose: ‘Surround towns with villages’? What is now being done seems part of a strategy to surround Muslim populations with Hindu enclaves. Or, as we were told in Atali, by some Hindu residents was that the nearest village with a significant Muslim presnce was at least five Hindu-dominated villages away. So, the idea is to make the distance between Muslims localities longer and insurmountable. It serves a dual purpose: it localises Muslims and universalises Hindus and creates small ‘Hindu Rashtras’, which make the Indian Constitution a redundant presence, which need not even be modified.
As in other cases, in Atali too, the Muslims were left to themselves. No political party came to them once they were back.The Congress party, villified for its ‘secularism’ took seven days to send its representative to show its sympathy. Muslims sense that a Hindu consensus has emerged in the parliamentary political arena where they do not matter anymore. This politics, which had given them some assurance has now taken a different route.
Atali is a warning bell. Or, a siren which should alert us of the impending danger facing Indian polity and society.We have ignored earlier signals. What would be our response now?
( An edited version of this article was published by the Indian Express on 24 June,2015)